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Live Well

Study confirms role of inflammation in cardiovascular health

The medical community has known the role that inflammation plays in degenerative diseases of the elderly for many years. These include osteoarthritis, cognitive decline and type 2 diabetes. A clinical study in the New England Journal of Medicine validated the correlation between inflammation and cardiovascular health, or heart disease.

The 10,000-patient, double-blind, placebo-controlled study sponsored by a big drug company, Novartis, clearly illustrated that an experimental anti-inflammatory drug reduced the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events.

What does this mean for you?

We know that inflammation is not our friend and, we must do all we can to reduce it in our systems.

What I’ve discovered in my research is that inflammation is a great deal lower in Japanese and Okinawan populations, particularly outside of Hawaii. (Unfortunately, many people of these ethnicities succumb to the same lousy diet and lifestyle choices as Americans of other ethnicities).

Here are some get-healthy tips:

>> Exercise on a regular basis. Research tells us you don’t have to run marathons to get maximum benefits. Walking at a brisk pace is helpful but if you can swim, hike or jog, all the better.

>> If you smoke, quit.

>> If you eat a lot of red meat, cut way, way down. Your heart doesn’t need those greasy hamburgers (or fries) either. Eating fish is much better.

>> Avoid fried and processed foods. Got Cool Whip, Spam or soda in your fridge? Toss it.

>> Eat lots of vegetables with the right micronutrients. Eating the right veggies will mitigate risk for many age-associated diseases and modulate the very rate of aging. It’s no coincidence that the Okinawans consume home-grown turmeric, sweet potatoes and other local foods, including marine phytoactive compounds — nutrients derived from fish, seaweed, algae and crustaceans.

What about vitamins or supplements? You should be able to get most of your vitamins by eating the right foods.

On the nutraceutical side, one marine carotenoid in the Okinawan diet that holds promise is astaxanthin, a natural product available as a supplement, derived mainly from micro-algae. Research indicates astaxanthin may benefit those suffering from inflammation-related conditions including arthritis and rheumatoid disorders, metabolic disease, as well as cardiovascular, neurological and liver diseases.

Astaxanthin is sold as Bioastin at Costco and Zanthosyn at GNC stores, both of which were developed in Hawaii.

Just remember moderation is the rule when it comes to dietary treats. Drink moderate amounts of white wine or beer. It doesn’t mean you can never have ice cream or Spam musubi but these should be the rare exception.

Follow these precepts and you’ll lose weight and look and feel better. But this isn’t about vanity, it’s about being healthier.


Dr. Bradley J. Willcox is principal investigator of the National Institute on Aging-funded Kuakini Hawaii Lifespan Study and Kuakini Hawaii Healthspan Study. He is a professor and director of research at the Department of Geriatric Medicine, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii.


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